Bruce Burdick

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Bruce Burdick
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Pasadena, California
CitizenshipUnited States of America
Alma materUniversity of Southern California

Bruce Burdick (1933-2021) was an American designer and founder of the Burdick Group. He is best known for The Burdick Group modular desk system, and designing various museum exhibits around the world, including the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame exhibit space.


Bruce Burdick grew up in Pasadena, California and studied at the University of Southern California and the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. During his time at U.S.C. he interned at the The Eames Office|Eames Office in Los Angeles. The work of Charles and Ray Eames was an inspiration to him throughout his career.[1]

After graduating from Art Center in 1961 he worked in the Los Angeles design firms of John Follis and Herb Rosenthal.

He founded the department of Environmental Design at the Art Center College of Design in 1971 and directed it through 1975. While there he served as the client liaison for the design and construction of Craig Ellwood’s canyon-spanning Bridge Building.[2] In 1970 he founded the Burdick Group [3] design firm in Los Angeles.[4]

Throughout his career Burdick spoke up for industrial design: "Designers are involved with life: we touch everything! Ninety per cent of everyone's day is spent using the things we've made, yet the public is only aware of fashion designers and architects.”[5] He found exhibit design especially challenging: "Each project can be like a small post-graduate session. There's an expertise in every field, but when you have to communicate to the public, you realize how often expertise holds people at bay. So the role of the designer is to be both intelligent and naive which, to me, is fun."[5]

In 1975 the Burdick Group moved to San Francisco, into space that landscape architect Lawrence Halprin no longer needed.[6]

The Burdick Group’s first major exhibition opened in 1976: “Food for Life,” a permanent exhibition on nutrition for the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry.[7] Via computers, visitors related exhibit content to their own health. From this first exhibit onward Burdick strove to engage visitors with computer interactions.[8] At that time "computer" meant mainframe. Burdick took a four-month course in computer literacy at Berkeley's Lawrence Hall of Science to understand how computers might turn a visitor's passive experience into an active one.[9]

In 1980, Burdick purchased a former piano warehouse at 35 South Park, San Francisco. The building accommodated a changing cast of employees and a shop where models and prototypes were built. [6]

In that same year, Burdick designed the Burdick Group desk for Herman Miller, a configurable desk system with detachable components.[10] It put tools and resources within easy reach. Supported by aluminum beams and pedestals, the components can be rearranged. As Burdick put it, “What I wanted was a desk that was responsive to the way an individual works . . . a desk that a designer could specify for 20 different people, with each one being different.”[11] Time magazine reporter Wolf van Eckardt pronounced it one of the five best industrial designs of 1981.[12] It was Gordon Gecko's desk in the 1987 film Wall Street.[13]

In 1983 Burdick married Susan K. Burdick, who became his design and business partner.[6]

In 2000 the Burdicks dissolved their firm and dedicated themselves to serious travel. They split their time between a home in San Francisco and a house they designed with longtime associate Bruce Lightbody at Sea Ranch on the California coast.

A retrospective article in Graphis includes 20 pages of Burdick project photos.[14]

Furniture design

  • Spring Table: multi-functional table for Herman Miller. In 1987 it was featured in International Design Magazine's Annual Design Review and selected for the International Design Excellence Awards program.[15][16]
  • The Burdick Group: modular desk system for Herman Miller (now MillerKnoll) [17]
  • AT&T Modular Exhibit System: Display elements that can be broken down, shipped and reconfigured [18][19]
  • Café Chair: aluminum stacking chair for Itoki (Japan)[20]
  • Burdick Wave: upholstered airport-type row seating. Itoki (Japan)[21]
  • Aero Table: glass-topped table for Casas (Spain) that packs flat. [22]

Exhibit design

  • Food for Life (1976), Museum of Science and Industry (Chicago).[23] Visitors signed in to computer terminals at the entrance, giving their age, weight, height and gender. As they proceeded through colorful 3D displays on the different food groups they consulted terminals for personalized nutrition advice. The interactive aspect was an important part of every Burdick Group project. The exhibit stayed up for at least 16 years.[24]
  • Creativity: the Human Resource (1979) toured more than a dozen science museums from coast to coast. The exhibit asked “What is the creative process? Where do insights come from?” 16 artists, designers and scientists, from Judy Chicago and John Cage to Linus Pauling and Charles Townes, shared their working materials and process. Computer terminals tested people’s creative potential. An animated film explored the elements of a creative climate.[25] Ian Frazier made light of the exhibit's solemnity in a Talk of the Town item in the New Yorker.[26] The genesis of the exhibit is described in a 1989 article in Print magazine.[27][28]
  • The Money Center (1981), for the Museum of Science and Industry (Chicago). From the Christian Science Monitor: The Money Center is an imaginative arcade of economics at work, showing the function of money and banking through the use of computers, puppets, barter games, and shopping sprees. One highlight is Philosophers' Park, where the theories of economists - Keynes and Smith, for example - are traced.”[29]
  • San Francisco Zoo Primate Discovery Center (1985) Interactive exhibits about primates.[30]
  • Kentucky Derby Museum, Louisville KY (1985, 2000) Through the film and exhibits, visitors follow a young foal from its birth all the way to the Kentucky Derby. In a Time Machine visitors can watch any Kentucky Derby from 1918 to the present day. Exhibits highlight the stories of owners, trainers and jockeys. Sports Illustrated writer Demmie Stathopolos describes the 360˚ theater: “The lights dim in the Great Hall; a hush falls over the crowd. Ten feet above the floor, 96 slide projectors hurl images around the 360-degree oval screen. . . In just under 14 minutes, the visitor is taken through Derby Day, starting at dawn when all is quiet, to the race itself, with the horses thundering toward the wire and the crowd roaring.”[31][32]
  • Electricity and Magnetism, California Science Center in Los Angeles (1989). From the L.A. Times: “The newest exhibit at the California Museum of Science and Industry in Exposition Park provides a challenging look at two powerful forces – electricity and magnetism. Children and adults can explore the intricate pathways of a microchip through a microscope, power an electromagnet, or experience the charge of static electricity in this latest addition to the museum. With an interactive learning approach and a visual emphasis, the exhibit is designed to complement school curricula.”[33]
  • Aramco House of Discovery, Dhahran, Saudi Arabia (1990).[34][35] 26,000 feet of permanent displays in a new building. The introductory area exhibits Arab scientific and technical innovations: advances in timekeeping and navigation, astronomy, geography, mechanics and chemistry are presented in three dimensions. The rest of the museum is dedicated to petroleum technology: exploration, extraction, refining and distribution, with hands-on demonstrations throughout.
  • Philips Competence Center, Eindhoven, the Netherlands (1991).[36]

The Evoluon, a large concrete flying saucer, was repurposed from a threadbare science museum to a corporate “front door.” From an article in Design Management Journal by Bruce and Susan Burdick: “In its recent corporate restructuring, Philips had combined some divisions, eliminated others, and, in the process, downsized. One of the ways it had done this was to identify its core competencies: software, mechanical, optics, motors, electronics, lighting, materials, and glass. A major part of the work of the front door would be to illustrate how these various competencies come together to produce new and significant product innovations.”[37] Arrayed in circular mezzanines inside the building perimeter, custom-designed exhibit structures showed the technical genesis and workings of key Philips product families. The exhibit's layout emphasized the technology exhibit's random access character. Burdick told The Architectural Record, "Exhibits aren't like books, which you read from front to back. People move through them at their own pace and along a number of different paths."[38]

  • Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Museum[39], Cleveland (1995). According to Peter Arendt, the director of design and construction for the Hall of Fame, Bruce and Susan Burdick convinced architect I. M. Pei to relocate and expand the building's museum space.[40] When the museum opened New York Times pop critic Jon Pareles wrote: “. . . a clamorous, eye-popping display that brings together artifacts and ephemera with films, video and multimedia computer data bases. Despite gaps and quirks, its inaugural installation is a promising start.”[41] And from the New York Times editorial page: “For each musicological exhibit that might document the creation of a hit record or the influence of, say, Woody Guthrie on Bob Dylan, there is another that connects rock's history to the larger history of a city (from New Orleans in the 50's to Seattle in the 90's) or a cultural upheaval (the rise of television, the raising of skirts) or a national cataclysm (Vietnam). Rock's social critics, from the John Birch Society to Tipper Gore, are taken as seriously as rap; so are the songs' political nuances.”[42] Architectural Record published a spread on the museum. [43] Burdick explained the design challenge to Washington Post reporter Richard Harrington: "this is the only museum in which the people already own the art, and know it as a part of their lives. . . . Our role is not to play back what they already have, but to play it back and put it into context."[44]
  • Garden of Samsung Electronics[45], Seoul, Korea (1998) In corporate headquarters, a panorama of the conglomerate’s activities, organized as a trip through the changing seasons.[46]

Retail design

  • Wells Fargo Bank prototype branch: early steps toward computerized banking. [47]
  • Crayola Cafe and Store, Kansas City, MO[48]
  • Philips exhibit at EuroDisneyland, France
  • Esprit de Corps: store hardware and layout worldwide[49]
  • Hallmark Gold Crown Store, Kansas City MO
  • Echo showroom, New York[50]
  • ComputerCraft retail store, Houston: In 1991, when personal computers were still daunting to many people, a prototype store for the chain was designed as a computer school, with interactive terminals for customers.[51]


  1. "Bruce Burdick: Celebrating his Life and Design Legacy". Newsletter of the Society for Experiential Graphic Design. 2021.
  2. Art Center College of Design. "Bruce Burdick (Industrial Design '61) — iconic designer, alumnus & founding director of #EnvironmentalDesign — has passed away". Twitter.
  3. "Burdick Group website". The Burdick Group.
  4. Carpenter, Edward K. (May 1989). "A Surrounding of Design". Print. XLII (III): 101.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Holt, Steven; Hanna, Annetta (March 1985). "Bruce Burdick: "Design is a lot more exciting than we've let the world realize"". I.D. 32: 41.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Carpenter, Edward K. (May 1989). "A Surrounding of Design". Print. XLII (III): 103.
  7. Milner, J.A. (February 1977). "Food for Life Exhibit:" Innovation in Nutrition Education". Food Technology. 31 (2): 32–37.
  8. Burdick, Bruce (September–October 1978). "Computerizing Museum Exhibits" (PDF). People's Computers. 7 (2): 30–33.
  9. Carpenter, Edward K. (May 1989). "A Surrounding of Design". Print. XLII (II): 148.
  10. Coupland, Ken (November 1, 2000). "The Burdick Group: Protecting Fertile Ground". Graphis: 44.
  11. Albrecht, Donald; Broikos, Chrisanthe B. (2000). On the Job: Design and the American Workplace. New York: Princeton Architectural Press. p. 93.
  12. Von Eckardt, Wolf (January 4, 1982). "Design:Creating Good-Looking Objects That Work". Time.
  13. Lasker, D (October 15, 1989). "AROUND HOME notes on a high tech desk, and garden and animal events executive workbench". Los Angeles Times – via Proquest.
  14. Coupland, Ken (November 1, 2000). "The Burdick Group: Protecting Fertile Ground". Graphis: 24–26.
  16. Johnson, R (1987). "The design dilemma: Putting the computer in it's place". San Francisco Business. 22 (12): 27 – via Proquest.
  17. Anonymous (Winter 2015). "35 Years of Design Excellence". Innovation, the Journal of the Industrial Designers Society of America: 31.
  18. Carpenter, Edward K. (1990). Best in Exhibition Design, 1989-90. RC Publications, Inc. p. 54. ISBN 0915734605.
  19. Carpenter, Edward K. (May 1989). "A Surrounding of Design". Print. XLII (III): 102, 104–106.
  20. Pedersen, Martin B. (1997). Graphis Product Design 2. Graphis Press. p. 24.
  21. Coupland, Ken (November 1, 2000). "The Burdick Group: Protecting Fertile Ground". Graphis: 29–31.
  22. "Aero Table". I.D.: 78–79. January 1994.
  23. Klein, Larry (1986). Exhibits: Planning and Design. New York: Madison Square Press. p. 44.
  24. Jacobson, Michael F. (15 August 1992). "Museum Exhibits Worrisome Philosophy". Chicago Sun-Times: 16. The article criticizes science museums for accepting exhibits sponsored by corporations (in this case Swift and Co.). The publication date makes it clear that this exhibit had been up for 16 years.
  25. Lewis, Richard W. (1979). "Creativity, the Human Resource". Journal of Creative Behavior. 13 (2): 75–80. doi:10.1002/j.2162-6057.1979.tb00194.x.
  26. Ian, Frazier (September 1, 1980). "See in New Ways". New Yorker: 19-20.
  27. Carpenter, Edward K. (May 1989). "A Surrounding of Design". Print. XLII (III): 107–108.
  28. Rosenberg, Ronald (February 9, 1981). "A TRAVELING SHOW OF OUR CREATIVITY". Boston Globe – via Proquest.
  29. Wood, Daniel B. (May 19, 1983). "A fun ride into the world of science and computers". Christian Science Monitor.
  30. Myerson, Jeremy (August 1982). "California Scheming". Design: 25.
  31. Stathoplos, Demmie (April 23, 1990). "Everyone's A Winner At The Kentucky Derby Museum". Sports Illustrated.
  32. Kamuf, R (2000). "Workers near home stretch in derby museum renovation". Business First. 16: 6].
  33. Yates, Nona (June 5, 1989). "Exhibit Explores "Invisible Forces"". Los Angeles Times: OC_A7.
  34. Myerson, Jeremy (August 1982). "California Scheming". Design: 25.
  35. "A Unique Place of Discovery in Dhahran". Saudi Arabia Magazine. 7 (2): 12–17. Summer 1990.
  36. Burdick, Bruce. "The Burdick Group: Philips Competence Center". AIGA Design Archives. American Institute of Graphic Design Archives.
  37. Burdick, Bruce and Susan (Fall 1997). "The Philips Competence Center: A Corporate Facility Designed to Inform". Design Management Journal. 8 (4): 22–26.
  38. Pearson, Clifford A. (September 1994). "Breaking Out of the Display Case, Exhibits Reach Out and Touch" (PDF). Architectural Record: 28.
  39. Burdick, Bruce. "Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum". AIGA Design Archives. American Institute of Graphic Arts. Retrieved 17 December 2021.
  40. Coupland, Ken (November 1, 2000). "The Burdick Group: Protecting Fertile Ground". Graphis: 27.
  41. Pareles, Jon (September 4, 1995). "Critic's Notebook: Finally Reckoning with Rock History". New York Times: Section 1, page 9.
  42. Rich, Frank (September 23, 1995). "Go To Cleveland". New York Times: Section 1, page 23.
  43. Pearson, Clifford A. (September 1994). "Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, Cleveland" (PDF). Architectural Record: 32–33.
  44. Harrington, Richard (September 2, 1995). "Rock Carves a Brand New Niche in America". Washington Post.
  45. Burdick, Bruce. "The Garden of Samsung Electronics". AIGA Design Archives. American Institute of Graphic Arts. Retrieved 17 December 2021.
  46. Alati, D (2000). "Budding technology". Contract. 42: 52–55 – via Proquest.
  47. Brown, Nancy (February 1984). "Wells Fargo, Pasadena California". Designers West. 31 (4): 117.
  48. Burdick, Susan; Burdick, Bruce (Fall 2000). "Color and Creativity: Crayola Café and Store". Innovation. 19 (3): 148.
  49. Edwards, Sandra (1987). Product Design 2: International Award-Winning Selections. PBC International. p. 177. ISBN 0866360085.
  50. Coupland, Ken (November 1, 2000). "The Burdick Group: Protecting Fertile Ground". Graphis: 42–43.
  51. Geran, Monica (April 1, 1991). "Computercraft: The Burdick Group designs a California Prototype for a National Chain of Computer Retail Shops". Interior Design: 102.

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